Review Date: 7.12.05
OK, who’s in charge here? Who’s in control?
That’s one of many questions asked by the new Hungarian comic thriller called Kontroll. Kontroll is literally an underground film, shot entirely in the sprawling subway system of Budapest, and shot entirely during the deepest hours of the night, when the system temporarily shuts down. According to the production notes, writer / director Nimrod Antal spent almost a year attempting to convince the transit authorities that he would not be making a documentary expose` of the system, but a feature film. Finally, he hectored them into submission and received permission to shoot.
In Kontroll, the plot is less important than the locale and the feel of the film. Atmospherics are almost everything. Therefore, my usual compunction about revealing plot is not in play. The story is simple.
A young man who, out of respect for Hungarian names, I will simply call B, is the leader of a five person team whose job it is to make sure that passengers using the subway have purchased their tickets to ride. There are a dozen or so teams peppered throughout the system. Collectively, they are called Kontroll. They wear red armbands, and they are a despised lot.
Early each morning they gather at headquarters where a neurotic general manager issues the orders of the day. B’s team is a disheveled collection of characters. Among them is a narcoleptic disco dancer, an incompetent philosopher, a brash neophyte, and a sleazy would-be lothario. We follow them on their rounds, accompanied by a frenetic but hugely likable soundtrack created by a group called NEO.
Much of the film unfolds at high speeds. And a not inconsiderable chunk of the suspense in Kontroll pits the speed and mass of the incoming trains against simple human foot power.
There are chases, deaths and romance. There are brawls, psychotic episodes, and a few tender moments. There’s even a bad joke about ten shots of vodka that translates very well.
Red, as in blood red, and neon white, are the stars of this film’s color wheel. The protagonist’s face is perpetually festooned with blotches of coagulation. And a menacing authority figure sports a maroon birthmark that would make a pinto pony envious.
Kontroll is Nimrod Antal’s first feature film. And he’s managed to do everything right. He’s assembled a wonderful cast, written a terrific script and employed the services of a top notch cinematographer. Days after I first watched the film, images from it were surfacing unbidden. For me, that’s a sign I’ve come to trust. It beckons me to return to a film. And I found I liked Kontroll even more the second time around.
There are mysteries in the film that will never be fathomed and questions that will remain unanswered. Director Antal is content to leave us hanging. Some movie goers will find this uncomfortable. But I found it compelling. If you want everything spelled out, perhaps Kontroll won’t be to your liking. However, if you can tolerate uncertainty, give this movie a chance. But hurry. Like many a small foreign film without a colossal budget, Kontroll’s tenure will probably be short.
For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.